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Everyday but far from the obvious

Matthew Partridge

In his latest show, Fucking Hell, at Whatiftheworld in Cape Town, Cameron Platter exhibits new drawings.

“You know you work hard as an ­artist when you’re on a first-name basis with your Fed-Ex guy,” ­Cameron ­Platter says. “His name is Kevin ­Pillay.”

Ordering R50?000 worth of Faber Castel pencil crayons from ­Germany at once and waiting months at a time for paper from New York reveals, to a certain extent, the meditative processes of Platter’s work.

In his latest show, Fucking Hell, at Whatiftheworld in Cape Town, Platter exhibits five new drawings from his planned 10-year Apocalypse series. Five drawings do not sound like a lot, but when one considers their size and how they are made these works inspire awe.

The term “drawings” seems like a deceit when describing these works, because of their print-like quality and appearance. Only upon closer inspection of the surface are their highly worked textures suddenly revealed. However, it is apt that the drawings resemble prints.

Platter says one of his first artworks was a wood block made in the studio of Cecil Skotnes when he was 10 years old, and that growing up around the prints of celebrated master John Muafangejo has had a deep impact on his work.

Carnival-like pastiche
“In a sense, this is really an extended homage to Muafangejo,” Platter says. But this is not a simple appropriation of style; Platter’s translation of the vocabulary of print moves to incorporate seemingly disparate visual references collected from the world around him. “In a way they are quite desperate works, almost a cry for help.”

Yet there is something ambiguous about the narrative that these works trace: from the incorporation of political slogans and the populist icons of Chicken Licken and KFC to extracts from those pamphlets that magically appear under your windscreen wiper advertising penis or breast enlargement.

The bright and colourful surfaces seem to be at odds with the message being conveyed. In fact, the absurdity of the finalised images seems precisely the point. It is not that Platter is necessarily avoiding pertinent issues but rather that he is creating a carnival-like pastiche of what he sees in daily life.

Living on the “geographical periphery” of Durban, not a major ­destination for the art world, has allowed Platter to make work he regards as “stripped of artifice”—it has enabled him to address the core of daily existence in South Africa.

Unlike the process of painting, he starts with a fixed, planned image that is projected on to massive sheets of paper. From there on it is about filling in the spaces, which takes up to two months to complete. A tiny nick on the letter “n” of the word “enlargement”, coloured in with silver crayon, reminds me of the wood-block method from which he takes his ­stylistic cue. “I get my kicks from small things,” Platter says with a smile, commenting on this attention to tiny detail.

He is not worried that he is falling into the trap of producing exotica. Rather, he says, “it is important to me that the works are of a place”.

Referring to Summertime, which bears the most obvious stylistic similarities to Muafangejo’s depictions of the battle of Rorke’s Drift, Platter says he has created his own version of the Arab Spring, fully equipped with tanks and rockets and gunships.

Through the ironies and the ­sexual innuendoes, the politics and the ­fast-food logos, the bright colours juxtaposed with black-and-white line drawing, there comes something uniquely personal about Platter’s moral interpretation of the world.

One feels that all the bizarreness of everyday life comes together in an expression unashamedly unforgiving, yet deeply observant.

Although the decorative quality makes the work enticing to look at, the joy comes from discovering the embedded longing that characterises this magical take on the reality of contemporary South African society.

Cameron Platter’s Fucking Hell is on at Whatiftheworld Gallery in Cape Town until January 28 2012

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